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A closed heart can’t be surprised by the Resurrection, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christian faith is a grace and can be perceived only in the hearts of those willing to be surprised by the joy of the Resurrection, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets a young choir member during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 19. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets a young choir member during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 19. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“A closed heart, a rationalistic heart” is incapable of understanding the Christian message which has God’s love, manifested in Christ’s victory over death, at its center, the pope said at his weekly general audience April 19.

“How beautiful it is to think that Christianity is essentially this: It is not so much our search for God, a search that is, truthfully, somewhat shaky, but rather God’s search for us,” the pope said.

The pope, bundled up in a white overcoat due to the unusually chilly and windy weather, entered a packed St. Peter’s Square in his popemobile. Immediately, he invited two girls and a boy, dressed in their altar server robes, to board the vehicle and ride with him around the square.

Pope Francis also took a moment to greet an elderly woman who, overcome with emotion, cried and stretched out her arms to embrace the pope. He stooped over, warmly embracing the woman and gently caressing her face before making the sign of the cross over her forehead.

Continuing his series of talks on hope, the pope reflected on St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians in which the apostle emphasizes the Resurrection as “the heart of the Christian message.”

“Christianity is born from here. It is not an ideology nor a philosophic system but a path of faith that begins from an event, witnessed by Jesus’ first disciples,” the pope said.

St. Paul’s summary of those who witnessed the risen Christ, he noted, ends by describing himself as the “least worthy of all” given his dramatic history as a one-time adversary of the early Christians.

St. Paul “wasn’t a choirboy. He was a persecutor of the church, proud of his own convictions,” the pope said, departing from his prepared remarks. But “one day something completely unpredictable happens: the encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.”

It is the surprise of this encounter, the pope continued, that all Christians are called to experience “even if we are sinners.”

Like the first disciples who saw the stone overturned at Jesus’ tomb, all men and women can find “happiness, joy and life where everyone thought there was only sadness, defeat and darkness,” the pope said.

God, Pope Francis said, is greater than “nothingness and just one lit candle is able to overcome the darkest night.”

“If we are asked the reason for our smile and our patient sharing, we can respond that Jesus is still here, he continues to be alive in our midst,” the pope said. “Jesus is here, in this square with us, alive and risen.”

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope Benedict celebrates his 90th birthday Bavarian-style

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A bit of Bavaria, including German beer and pretzels, came to the Vatican to help celebrate retired Pope Benedict XVI’s 90th birthday.

“Thank you for bringing Bavaria here,” he told his guests, commenting on the beauty of gathering together under a blue Roman sky with white clouds, colors that “recall the white and blue flag of Bavaria” and how ‘it’s always the same sky” no matter where one finds oneself in the world.

Retired Pope Benedict XVI makes a toast during celebrations marking his 88th birthday in 2015 at the Vatican. Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote he was grateful for being born April 16, 1927, a day that fell during the church's most intense liturgical season. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Retired Pope Benedict XVI makes a toast during celebrations marking his 88th birthday in 2015 at the Vatican. Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote he was grateful for being born April 16, 1927, a day that fell during the church’s most intense liturgical season. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

The Bavarian-born pope’s birthday fell on Easter Sunday, April 16, so a small informal party was held April 17 outside his residence, the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican gardens. Pope Francis visited his predecessor April 12, before the start of the Easter Triduum, to offer him birthday greetings.

Special guests at the Bavarian party included: Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the retired pope’s 93-year-old brother; Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the retired pope’s personal secretary; Birgit Wansing, a longtime administrative assistant; and the consecrated laywomen from Memores Domini, who assist him.

A German delegation was present, led by the minister president of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, and including a group of men dressed in the traditional uniforms of the “Schutzen” with their dark green wool hats decorated with feathers, pins and springs of greenery.

Pope Benedict said his heart was filled with gratitude “for the 90 years the good Lord has given me. There have been trying and difficult times, but he always guided me and pulled me through.”

He thanked God for his beautiful homeland “that you now bring to me,” and which is “open to the world, lively and happy” because it is rooted so deeply in the Christian faith.

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The last word isn’t the tomb, it’s life, pope says on Easter Monday

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Simple gestures of welcome and solidarity, when supported by faith in Jesus’ resurrection, proclaim the value of life, Pope Francis said.

Being “men and women of the resurrection, men and women of life” involves making “gestures of solidarity, gestures of welcome, increasing the universal desire for peace and the aspiration for an environment free of degradation,” the pope said April 17 before reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer.

Pope Francis speaks after the "Regina Coeli" prayer April 17 from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis speaks after the “Regina Coeli” prayer April 17 from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

On the Easter Monday public holiday, thousands of Italians and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square at noon to join the pope for the Easter-season Marian prayer, which begins, “Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia.”

Pope Francis told the crowd that the message of the angel to the women at the tomb, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’” is directed to believers today as well.

Christians, he said, are called “to proclaim to the men and women of our time this message of joy and hope.”

Jesus’ resurrection means “the last word isn’t the tomb, it is not death, it is life,” the pope said. “This is why we repeat so often, ‘Christ is risen.’ In him the tomb was vanquished. Life was born.”

Mary, “silent witness of the death and resurrection of her son Jesus,” can help believers be clearer signs of his love and life in the world “so that those experiencing tribulation and difficulty do not become victims of pessimism and defeat or resignation, but find in us brothers and sisters who offer support and consolation,” Pope Francis said.

The pope ended his remarks affirming that Mary intercedes particularly on behalf of those “Christian communities who are persecuted and oppressed in many parts of the world and are called to a more difficult and courageous witness.”

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Risen Christ calls all to follow him on path to life, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus is the risen shepherd who takes upon his shoulders “our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms,” Pope Francis said before giving his solemn Easter blessing.

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message and blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

With tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 16, the pope called on Christians to be instruments of Christ’s outreach to refugees and migrants, victims of war and exploitation, famine and loneliness.

For the 30th year in a row, Dutch farmers and florists blanketed the area around the altar with grass and 35,000 flowers and plants: lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, birch and linden.

Preaching without a prepared text, Pope Francis began, as he did the night before at the Easter Vigil, imagining the disciples desolate because “the one they loved so much was executed. He died.”

While they are huddling in fear, the angel tells them, “He is risen.””And, the pope said, the church continues to proclaim that message always and everywhere, including to those whose lives are truly, unfairly difficult.

“It is the mystery of the cornerstone that was discarded, but has become the foundation of our existence,” he said. And those who follow Jesus, “we pebbles,” find meaning even in the midst of suffering because of sure hope in the resurrection.

Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, “I don’t know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen.”

Almost immediately after the homily, a brief but intense rain began to fall on the crowd, leading people to scramble to find umbrellas, jackets or plastic bags to keep themselves dry.

After celebrating the morning Easter Mass, Pope Francis gave his blessing “urbi et orbi,” to the city of Rome and the world.

Before reciting the blessing, he told the crowd that “in every age the risen shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion, the wounds of his merciful love, he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life.”

Christ seeks out all those in need, he said. “He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.”

Pope Francis mentioned a long list of those for whom the Lord gives special attention, including victims of human trafficking, abused children, victims of terrorism and people forced to flee their homes because of war, famine and poverty.

“In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace,” Pope Francis said. “May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.”

The pope also offered special prayers for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Ukraine, and for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Latin America.

The pope’s celebration of Easter got underway the night before in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the fire and Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica. Walking behind the Easter candle and carrying a candle of his own, Pope Francis entered the basilica in darkness.

The basilica was gently illuminated only by candlelight and the low light emanating from cellphones capturing the solemn procession.

The bells of St. Peter’s pealed in the night, the sound echoing through nearby Roman streets, announcing the joy of the Resurrection.

During the vigil, Pope Francis baptized 11 people: five women and six men from Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China.

One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, “Yes, I do,” they lowered their heads as the pope poured water over their foreheads.

Among them was Ali Acacius Damavandy from the United States who smiled brightly as the baptismal waters streamed down his head.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the pope recalled the women who went “with uncertain and weary steps” to Christ’s tomb.

The pope said the faces of those women, full of sorrow and despair, reflect the faces of mothers, grandmothers, children and young people who carry the “burden of injustice and brutality.”

The poor and the exploited, the lonely and the abandoned, and “immigrants deprived of country, house and family” suffer the heartbreak reflected on the faces of the women at the tomb who have seen “human dignity crucified,” he said.

However, the pope added, in the silence of death, Jesus’ heartbeat resounds and his resurrection comes as a gift and as “a transforming force” to a humanity broken by greed and war.

“In the Resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others,” he said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to follow the example of the woman who, upon learning of Christ’s victory over death, ran to the city and proclaimed the good news in those places “where death seems the only way out.”

Presiding over the Stations of the Cross Good Friday, April 14, at Rome’s Colosseum, Pope Francis offered a prayer expressing both shame for the sins of humanity and hope in God’s mercy.

A crowd of about 20,000 people joined the pope at the Rome landmark. They had passed through two security checks and were watched over by a heavy police presence given recent terrorist attacks in Europe.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis recited a prayer to Jesus that he had composed. “Oh Christ, our only savior, we turn to you again this year with eyes lowered in shame and with hearts full of hope.”

The shame comes from all the “devastation, destruction and shipwrecks that have become normal in our lives,” he said, hours after some 2,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. The shame comes from wars, discrimination and the failure to denounce injustice.

Turning to the sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis expressed “shame for all the times we bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have scandalized and injured your body, the church.”

But the pope also prayed that Christians would be filled with the hope that comes from knowing that “you do not treat us according to our merits, but only according to the abundance of your mercy.”

Christian hope, he said, means trusting that Jesus’ cross can “transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh capable of dreaming, forgiving and loving.”

— Also by Junno Arocho Esteves

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Papal preacher: Victory belongs to one who triumphs over self, not others

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus came to the world not just to teach, but to radically change human hearts that have hardened from sin, the preacher of the papal household said during a service commemorating Christ’s death on the cross.

“A heart of stone is a heart that is closed to God’s will and to the suffering of brothers and sisters,” but God, through the son, offers the world “a heart of flesh,” Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in the homily.

Pope Francis venerates the crucifix as he leads the Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis venerates the crucifix as he leads the Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion April 14 in St. Peter’s Basilica, which began with a silent procession down the central nave under dim lighting to emphasize the solemnity of the ceremony.

The pope then lay prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica, his head resting upon his clasped hands on a red pillow, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance. As is customary, the papal household’s preacher gave the homily.

Father Cantalamessa said the motto of the Carthusian monks, “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis” (The cross is steady while the world is turning), represents Christ and his cross standing firm, not against the world, which is always in flux, “but for the world, to give meaning to all the suffering that has been, that is and that will be in human history.”

Jesus came not to condemn sinners, who “are creatures of God and preserve their dignity,” but to admonish the sin, which is the “result of one’s passions and of the ‘devil’s envy,’” he said.

Today’s world seems especially “fluid,” he continued, with no fixed moorings, no undisputed values, where “everything is in flux, even the distinction between sexes.”

The cross standing in and over the world as represented in the monks’ coat of arms, he said, is the “mainmast that holds the boat afloat in the undulation of the world” and marks the “definitive and irreversible ‘no’ of God to violence, injustice, hate, lies — to all that we call ‘evil,’ and at the same it is equally the irreversible ‘yes’ to love, truth, and goodness.”

No one should ever give up hope, he said, because “the cross is the living proclamation that the final victory does not belong to the one who triumphs over others but to the one who triumphs over self; not to the one who causes suffering but to the one who is suffering.”

Father Cantalamessa said, “Christ did not come to explain things, but to change human beings,” who each possess some varying degree of “a heart of darkness,” a heart hardened by sin.

The Bible calls it a heart of stone, he said, which is the heart of those who ignore God’s will and others’ pain; it is someone, for example, who “accumulates unlimited sums of money and remains indifferent to the desperation of the person who does not have a glass of water to give to his or her own child; it is also the heart of someone who lets himself or herself be completely dominated by the instincts of the flesh and is ready to kill or to lead a double life.”

It is also the heart of the church’s ministers and practicing Christians who “still live fundamentally ‘for ourselves’ and not ‘for the Lord,’” he said.

When Christ died, the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs were opened. These signs also indicate, the papal preacher said, “what should happen in the heart of a person who reads and meditates on the Passion of Christ.”

Quoting St. Leo the Great, the preacher said people’s earthly nature should tremble at the suffering of the savior, “the rocks — the hearts of unbelievers — should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart.”

The heart of flesh God promised “is now present in the world” and in receiving the Eucharist, “we firmly believe his very heart comes to beat inside of us as well.”

He asked the assembly to gaze upon the cross and implore, like the tax collector in the temple, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” so “we too, like he did, will return home ‘justified, that is, reconciled with God, and if it’s necessary, with our cross.’”

After the homily, the assembly venerated the cross, which was carried down the central nave and held before the pope, who kissed and caressed it.

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Pope washes feet of 12 prison inmates at Holy Thursday Mass

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a gesture of service toward marginalized people, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates, including three women and a man who is converting from Islam to Catholicism.

Although in Jesus’ time, washing the feet of one’s guests was performed by slaves, Jesus “reverses” this role, the pope said during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper April 13 at a prison 45 miles from Rome.

Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate April 13 at Paliano prison outside of Rome as he celebrates Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper. The pontiff washed the feet of 12 inmates at the maximum security prison. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate April 13 at Paliano prison outside of Rome as he celebrates Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The pontiff washed the feet of 12 inmates at the maximum security prison. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“He came into this world to serve, to serve us. He came to make himself a slave for us, to give his life for us and to love us to the end,” he said.

Pope Francis made his way by car to a penitentiary in Paliano, which houses 70 men and women who testified as a witness for the state against associates or accomplices.

To protect the safety and security of the prisoners, only a live audio feed of the pope’s homily was provided by Vatican Radio as well as selected photographs released by the Vatican.

The Vatican said April 13 that among the 12 inmates who participated in the foot washing ceremony, “two are sentenced to life imprisonment and all the others should finish their sentences between 2019 and 2073.”

In his brief homily, which he delivered off-the-cuff, the pope said that upon his arrival, people greeted him saying, “‘Here comes the pope, the head of the church.'”

“Jesus is the head of the church. The pope is merely the image of Jesus, and I want to do the same as he did. In this ceremony, the pastor washes the feet of the faithful. (The role) reverses: The one who seems to be the greatest must do the work of a slave,” he said.

This gesture, he continued, is meant to “sow love among us” and that the faithful, even those in prison, can imitate Christ in the same manner.

“I ask that if you can perform a help or a service for your companion here in prison, do it. This is love, this is like washing the feet. It means being the servant of the other,” the pope said.

Recalling another Gospel reading, in which Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest among them must be at the service of others, Pope Francis said Christ put his words into action by washing his disciple’s feet and “it is what Jesus does with us.”

“For this reason, during this ceremony, let us think about Jesus. This isn’t a folkloric ceremony. It is a gesture to remind us of what Jesus gave us. After this, he took bread and gave us his body; he took wine and gave us his blood. This is the love of God,” the pope said.

Vatican Radio reported that several other inmates took an active role in the liturgy, including four who served as altar servers. Other inmates prepared homemade gifts for the pope, among them were two dessert cakes, a handcrafted wooden cross and fresh vegetables grown in the prison garden.

The evening Mass was the second of two Holy Thursday liturgies for Pope Francis. The first was a morning chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Love Jesus in all who suffer, pope says on Palm Sunday

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus does not ask that people only contemplate his image, but that they also recognize and love him concretely in all people who suffer like he did, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis carries a cross as he arrives to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis carries a cross as he arrives to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jesus is “present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own. They suffer from slave labor, from family tragedies, from diseases. They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike,” the pope said April 9 as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lord’s Passion.

In his noon Angelus address, the pope also decried recent terrorist attacks in Sweden and Egypt, calling on “those who sow terror, violence and death,” including arms’ manufacturers and dealers, to change their ways.

In his prayers for those affected by the attacks, the pope also expressed his deepest condolences to “my dear brother, His Holiness Pope Tawadros, the Coptic church and the entire beloved Egyptian nation,” which the pope was scheduled to visit April 28-29.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens more injured April 9 in an Orthodox church north of Cairo as Coptic Christians gathered for Palm Sunday Mass; the attack in Sweden occurred two days earlier when a truck ran through a crowd outside a busy department store in central Stockholm, killing four and injuring 15 others.

The pope also prayed for all people affected by war, which he called, a “disgrace of humanity.”

Tens of thousands of people carrying palms and olive branches joined the pope during a solemn procession in St. Peter’s Square under a bright, warm sun for the beginning of Holy Week.

The pope, cardinal and bishops were dressed in red vestments, the color of the Passion, and carried large “palmurelli,” bleached and intricately woven and braided palm branches. Hundreds of young people led the procession into St. Peter’s Square and later, youths from Poland handed the World Youth Day cross to young representatives from Panama, where the next international gathering will be held in January in 2019.

In his homily, the pope said that the day’s celebration was “bittersweet.”

“It is joyful and sorrowful at the same time” because the Mass celebrates the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem as the people and disciples acclaim him as king, and yet, the Gospel gives the account of his passion and death on the cross.

Jesus accepts the hosannas coming from of the crowd, but he “knows full well that they will soon be followed by the cry, ‘Crucify him!’” the pope said.

Jesus “does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs or in the videos that circulate on the internet,” but to recognize that he is present in those who suffer today, including “women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded.”

“Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved,” the pope said.

We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace.

Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem as the true Messiah, who is a servant of God and humanity, the pope said. He is not a dreamer peddling illusions, a “new age” prophet or con man; he takes on the sins and sufferings of humanity with his passion.

Jesus never promised honor and success would come to those who follow him, rather, the path to final victory requires picking up the cross and carrying it every day, Pope Francis said.

“Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily,” he said.

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Saving lives must be first concern of immigration policy, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The defense of the life, dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees must come before any other question when enacting migration policies, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want "to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land." (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want “to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The defense of human beings knows no limits,” the pope said in an interview with the journal of the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

“Those in power,” he said, “must be both far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as well as in trying to end the causes which force civilians to flee.”

Of course, he said, a safe and humane approach to handling the current global migration crisis requires international cooperation and policies that “respect both those who welcome and those who are welcomed.”

Newcomers must respect the laws of their host countries and be assisted in integrating into the life of their new communities, he said in the interview published April 7. And members of the receiving community must be educated to understand the real causes of migration and the desperate situations of those who feel forced to flee their homes.

The news media play a big role, Pope Francis said. They should explain the human rights violations, violence, poverty and catastrophes that lead so many people to flee.

But, especially, he said, the media must report responsibly and not simply “indulge in negative stereotypes when talking about migrants and refugees.”

“Just think of the unfair terms often used to describe migrants and refugees,” the pope said. “How often do we hear people talk of ‘illegals’ as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair. It is based on a false premise, and it pushes public opinion toward negative judgments.”

Asked about his 2016 trip to refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, with leaders of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said it was a sign of “fraternal responsibility.”

“We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land,” the pope said. “There is no difference of creed that can outweigh this wish, in fact, quite the contrary.”

Pope Francis said he wished the political leaders of every nation would show the same kind of joint concern for “the cries of the many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives.”

As for anti-immigrant feelings and fears among some Europeans, the pope urged people to remember what Europe was like after World War II.

Millions of Europeans immigrated to South America or the United States, he said. “It was not an easy experience for them, either. They had the burden of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no knowledge of the local language.

“The process of integration wasn’t easy, but for the most part it ended in success,” Pope Francis said.

Countries that have grown and thrived over the centuries by accepting and integrating newcomers cannot forget that experience or pretend it will not be repeated today, he said.

For example, “Europeans contributed greatly to the growth of trans-Atlantic societies,” those in North and South America. “This is always the case: Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a source of wealth and should be valued as such.”

Members of the Catholic Church have an even greater obligation to recognize the value of welcoming newcomers, Pope Francis said. “We can see the peaceful integration of people from other cultures as a kind of reflection of its Catholicism. A unity which accepts ethnic or cultural diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the spirit of Pentecost is open to all. open to embracing everyone.”

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Make room for kindness, not hopeless ‘mafia’ mentality, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hope cannot remain hidden within but must break free to overcome vengeful, mafia-like mentalities with mercy and humility, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis kisses a Marian statue presented by someone in the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 5. (CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope Francis kisses a Marian statue presented by someone in the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 5. (CNS /Paul Haring)

Christians must give witness to hope through their lives as Jesus did and make room for him in their hearts to fight evil by doing good to others, even their enemies, the pope said at his weekly general audience April 5.

“The mafiosi think that evil can be overcome by evil. They take revenge; they do so many things that we all know. But they do not know what humility, mercy and meekness are. And why? Because the mafiosi have no hope,” he said.

Arriving in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis made his way through the crowd of 15,000 people, greeting individuals and even making a quick stop to sip some mate tea offered by a group of pilgrims from his native Argentina.

Arriving at the stage, the pope spotted a familiar face among the Argentine pilgrims, and warmly embraced an elderly woman and spoke to her while other people in the group reached out to touch him.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope reflected on a verse from the First Letter of St. Peter, in which the apostle calls on Christians to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

The “secret” to understanding this hope, the pope said, is that it is rooted in the paschal mystery of Christ’s victory over death.

“Our hope is not a concept nor a sentiment; it is not phone call or a pile of riches,” he said. “No, our hope is a person, it is the Lord Jesus who we recognize alive and present in us and in our brothers and sisters.”

A person who lacks hope, the pope added, is incapable of giving or receiving the “consolation of forgiveness” and unable to make room for Christ in their hearts.

St. Peter’s assertion that “it is better to suffer for doing good” than doing evil, he continued, doesn’t mean that it is good to suffer, but that suffering for the sake of good means “that we are in communion with the Lord.”

Christians who wish to follow Jesus’ example are called to love and do good, even to “those who do not wish us well or even harm us,” Pope Francis said.

“It is the proclamation of God’s love, an immeasurable love that is unending, that is never lacking and constitutes the very foundation of our hope,” he said.

 

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Pope Francis condemns shocking chemical massacre in Syria

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis strongly condemned a shocking chemical attack in Syria that left some 70 people, including at least 10 children, dead.

A child receives treatment inside a field hospital in Idlib, Syria, after April 3 airstrikes. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people April 3, opposition activists said. (CNS photo/via EPA)

A child receives treatment inside a field hospital in Idlib, Syria, after April 3 airstrikes. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria’s rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people April 3, opposition activists said. (CNS photo/via EPA)

“We are horrified by the latest events in Syria. I strongly deplore the unacceptable massacre that took place yesterday in the Idlib province, where dozens of civilians, including many children, were killed,” the pope said April 5 before concluding his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Images of dead men, women and children lying on the streets provoked international outrage following the attack April 4 in a rebel-held area.

Western leaders have accused Syrian President Bashar Assad and the country’s military of perpetrating the attack, based on reports that warplanes dropped chemical bombs in the early morning.

According to The New York Times, the Syrian military denied attacking the town and said the attack was caused by insurgents who blame the Syrian government for similar attacks “every time they fail to achieve the goals of their sponsors.”

Pope Francis encouraged those helping with relief efforts in Idlib province, and he appealed to world leaders to put an end to the violence.

“I appeal to the conscience of those who have political responsibility at the local and international level, so that this tragedy may come to an end and relief may come to that beloved population who for too long have been devastated by war,” the pope said.

The attack occurred the same day representatives from more than 70 countries were gathering in Brussels for an April 4-5 conference on resolving the humanitarian crisis in Syria and to discuss ways to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, was among the representatives and addressed the conference April 5.

The Holy See, he said, “remains deeply concerned about the tremendous human suffering, affecting millions of innocent children and other civilians who remain deprived of essential humanitarian aid, medical facilities and education.”

He called for humanitarian laws to “be fully respected,” especially “with regard to the protection of civilian populations” and the “conditions and treatment of prisoners.”

“The Holy See invites all parties to the Syrian conflict to spare no effort to end the seemingly endless cycle of violence, to restore that sense of solidarity that is the basis of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence,” Archbishop Gallagher said.

The pope also said his thoughts and prayers were with the victims of the bombing of a metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia, that killed 14 people and left 50 wounded.

Chaos erupted April 3 when a bomb was detonated in a subway train. Police said the bomber was Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, a Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan. Following the attack, security forces said a second bomb was found at a nearby station, but it had failed to explode.

“As I entrust to God’s mercy those who have tragically died, I express my spiritual closeness to their families and to all who suffer because of this tragic event,” Pope Francis said.

 

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